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West Michigan Far Right Watch for the week of December 29 – January 5 : Police apologists, Public School Conspiracy theories and Far Right views of freedom

January 5, 2021

Welcome to the next installment of West Michigan Far Right Watch, where we keep tabs on the far right in this area and provide a summary of what they are up to and what kind of messages they are promoting in this community. As a matter of clarification, when we say the Far Right, we mean those in the streets who fight to defend White Supremacy, those who promote far right ideology, and those with political and economic power.

We have three examples for this installment. The first one comes to us from the police apologist group, Voice for the Badge. After MLive reported that the suspension of GRPD officer VanderKooi was overturned by an unsourced arbitrator, Voice for the Badge posted the following ramblings on their Facebook page on December 31st. 

WOW GRPD WE FINALLY WIN ONE!!

Captain Curt Vandercooi -exemplary GRPD officer for 40 years/highly respected by citizens and peers has been vindicated. IMPARCIAL arbitrator determined-there was not just cause for the disciplinary action that Captain Vandercooi received.  So he was proactive in addressing a 100% legitimate concern in regards to potential domestic terrorism.  Turned out the gentleman wasn’t but what if he was??? Think about it.

The Civilian {{with the exception of a couple} Board voted for his dismissal {with the exception of a couple}.  As proven it was a horrible decision and what should be embarrassing—but then again the civilian boards job is to critique our PD. Another layer of b.s. for our PD.  Personally I think the civilian board is worthless especially since we added the position of Oversight of Police and Fire–yea OK -I’m still trying to figure out what Brandon Davis does. At least the civilian board works for free but then again I would pay to have an impartial board  or better yet the elimination of this board.

Remember they damn near ruined a great police officers career and reputation. They should be ashamed.

We have become accustomed to these kinds of posts from the VFB, since they defend the GRPD no matter what kind of harm they do in the community, especially the harm they do to Black people and immigrants.

Our second example today, comes to us from the American Patriot Council, where co-founder Jason Howland decides to make a video while he is driving, a video that presents all sorts of conspiracy theories and misinformation about public schools. In this 15 minute video, Howland claims that children can’t spread COVID, that school milages are unconstitutional and that public school teachers are indoctrinated children.

Our last example is from the Far Right Think Tank, the Acton Institute. In an article posted on December 31st, the editor of Acton’s journal Religion & Liberty, posted an article about the state of freedom in the world. His primary sources for determining freedom are the Cato Institute, which was founded by the Koch Brothers, and the Fraser Institute, which also receives funding from the Koch Brothers, is a member of the right wing State Policy Network and is a known climate denier.

The Acton Institute article also takes an opportunity to remind their readers that the rebellions after the public lynching of George Floyd hurt poor & minority communities, and that the police were the victims of rioters. Of course, the Acton writer doesn’t even mention George Floyd or the many other Black people who were murdered and brutalized by police across the country. Such commentary, is consistent with what the Acton Institute has posted in recent years

A look at the Homelessness Industrial Complex in Grand Rapids

January 4, 2021

The issue of people who are unhoused in this community has gained extra attention in recent weeks, because of the various encampments in Grand Rapids, particularly the encampment that was at Heartside Park.

Just before Christmas, the City of Grand Rapids had told those who were staying at the encampment to vacate or be evicted. City officials said they had alternatives, but most of those alternatives violated the rights of people, as was pointed out by the ACLU in a letter they sent to Grand Rapids City officials

Various grassroots groups organized quickly to provide some support and relief to those who were being evicted from Heartside Park. In addition, there was a protest last week and an online campaign to pressure Grand Rapids City officials to not criminalize those who are unhoused where nearly 400 people sent messages. Of course, we all received a canned message in response from the Mayor’s office, which included these comments:

“The City has also created a Homelessness Work Group, appointed the City’s first full-time homelessness coordinator, and formed the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Fire Department, Grand Rapids Police Department and Network180.   We are also working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the Eviction Prevention Program in the 61st District Court.

Ensuring people have a safe and warm place to sleep each night is a priority.  We also have to respond to some of the significant health and safety issues occurring in some public spaces.   These are complex issues that require a community response and we are doing all that we can to find solutions.”

Noticeably absent from the City’s response was their failure to actually address the issued raised in the online letter, along with the the fact that they do not acknowledge their role in criminalizing homelessness.

In the coming weeks, the number of unhoused in Kent County may increase significantly, due to the end of the CDC’s moratorium on eviction, which ended on December 31st. While this crisis is exacerbated because of the pandemic, it is important that we come to terms with the fact that there has been a decades long problem of homelessness in the Grand Rapids area. 

Therefore, we need to examine not only the larger social factors which lead to people being unhoused, we also need to take a more honest look at what we might call the Homelessness Industrial Complex in Grand Rapids and why their function primarily serves to perpetuate homelessness in this community.

Before people get their tighty-whities all in a bunch, I am not suggesting that we just do away the organizations which provide temporary shelter to those experiencing homelessness, at least not without having something else in place. I know there are well-intentioned people who work for these groups, some who even care. However, we need to stop looking at complex social issues through the binary lens of good/bad when it comes to the non-profits who make up the Homelessness Industrial Complex in Grand Rapids. In many ways, like most non-profits, these groups only respond to the symptoms of the problem, instead of addressing the root causes.

Homelessness Industrial Complex in Grand Rapids

On December 25th, the Grand Rapids Business Journal published an opinion piece by  Dennis Van Kampen, the President and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries. The opinion piece is entitled, Do we have the will to end homelessness in Kent County. It’s not a very insightful article by Van Kampen. In fact, the opinion piece reflects an important aspect of why the Homeless Industrial Complex is part of the problem. Van Kampen states that one of the strengths of this community is growth and development, even though it has consequences. Van Kampen acknowledges that while rent has nearly doubled in the last decade, wages have not. However, what is extremely instructive about the piece by Van Kampen, is that he doesn’t provide a solution to the problem of homelessness. 

In the 40 years that I have lived in this community, there has been a significant increase in the number of homeless shelters and housing assistance organizations. Most people view these increases as a good thing. On the contrary, the increase in services is not a good thing, in my opinion, rather it only expands and perpetuates the need for the Homeless Industrial Complex, which is highly problematic. One of the reasons that it is problematic, is that these agencies only address individual or family needs, but fail to address the larger structural problems, which cause people to be without stable housing. In other words, the shelter model, which i also the White Savior model in this community, is a false solution. So what factors contribute to the Homelessness Industrial Complex as being a False Solution?

First, most of the shelters and homeless advocacy groups in this community are Christian groups. More accurately, they are Christian groups that practice a form of White Saviorism, rather than theology of liberation. Many Christians in this community can avoid having to practice radical hospitality, because the shelters like Guiding Light or Mel Trotter Ministries will take care of that problem. On top of most Christians getting a free pass on the homelessness issue, there is the issue of people who utilize the services of these groups with having to constantly deal with religion being imposed on them. For people who are not Christian, this can be a huge turn off and more importantly it is a form of spiritual violence.

Second, there is the issue of Non-Profits having the 501c3 required Board of Directors. Those who sit on the boards of non-profits are often interested in how it will look on their resumes or because they work in the financial sector or corporate world and have access to people with deep pockets. Those who sit on boards of shelters are generally not those who have experienced homelessness, but often people in positions of privilege. Having boards with status and privilege doesn’t foster a conversation about the root causes of people who are unhoused. Take a look for yourself to see who sits on the boards of Mel Trotter Ministries, Degage Ministries, Guiding Light, Family Promise, ICCF and Matthew’s House Ministries.

Third, there is the issue of careerism with the non-profit sector, which doesn’t tend to lend itself to wanting to actually eliminate the problem of homelessness. Part of the careerism is that those in leadership positions can make a pretty decent salary, especially compared to most workers. I looked at the salary of the CEO of Mel Trotter and Degage, which were $111,000 and $80,000 respectively, based on 2018 990 records.

Fourth, there is the issue of funding. Most of the shelters in the Grand Rapids area rely on foundation funding, which is money that comes from those who are part of the local power structure. If a non-profit’s goal was to eliminate homelessness by attacking the root causes, such groups would have a hard time getting funding from those who made their millions/billions by exploiting people and buying politicians who craft public policies that are beneficial to members of the Capitalist Class. Just looking at the 990 documents for 2018 (the most recent available) from the various DeVos family foundations, non-profits like Mel Trotters, Degage, Guiding Light, Family Promise and ICCF have all been recipient of sizable contributions.

The fifth and last reason is because none of the organizations that make up the Homelessness Industrial Complex in Grand Rapids are attacking the root causes of people being unhoused. None of these groups actively promote and demand that all people make a living wage, which in this market, would be roughly $20 an hour in order to have a mortgage or be able to rent, especially for families. None of the members of the Homelessness Industrial Complex in Grand Rapids are exposing or challenging the serious wealth gap that exists in this area. We have several families that are worth billions and according to 2016 data, there are 600 millionaires in Kent County.

In addition, until stable and secure housing is actually a right in this community, we will always be at the mercy of landlords, property management companies, real estate companies, housing developers and mortgage brokers, all of which operate within the framework of the profit system, which means they inherently see housing as a means to make a profit, not as a fundamental right of people.

Now, I recognize that dismantling capitalism is a tall task, but it is possible. It won’t happen over night, but we can begin to work on it in stages, with ideas and solutions that make housing justice the goal of our movement. However, if we are unwilling to begin having conversations and develop strategies that centers housing justice, we will be stuck with Homelessness Industrial Complex in Grand Rapids and its relationship to the local power structure that will always oppose the core belief that everyone has the right to secure and safe housing. Housing Justice Now!

Senator Peters and Stabenow don’t fight for the $2000 COVID relief checks, but they do vote for $740.5 billion in US militarism

January 3, 2021

On Friday, the majority of the Democratic Senate demonstrated just exactly what they stand for by voting with Mitch McConnell to override a veto of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.

The effort by Senator Bernie Sanders to try to force a vote to give the majority of people in this country, millions who are unemployed and facing eviction in the midst of the pandemic, $2000 per person, was voted down 80 – 12

This means that not only did the majority of Senate Democrats decided not to fight to give $2000 to millions of people who are suffering under Corona Capitalism, they also voted in favor of another $740.5 Billion for militarism and imperialism.

In a December 23rd statement on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, Michigan Senator Gary Peters was at least honest about the reality of the annual US military budget, when he said: 

“This vital legislation has traditionally received broad, bipartisan support – and this year was no exception.”

US militarism, like Capitalism, have always enjoyed bipartisan support.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, also voted with the majority of the Senate to adopt the $740.5 Billion US military budget. Senator Peters and Stabenow both posted statements on why they voted the way they did with rhetoric about supporting US troops and Michigan weapons manufacturers, but this is not how the rest of the world experiences the largest annual transfer of US taxpayer money to militarism and imperialism.

The $740.5 Billion public subsidy of the US military is just a number, but what does the vote mean in concrete terms, especially for the rest of the world. Here are a few of the consequences that the rest of the world has to endure:

  • 800 US military bases that occupy other countries around the world. Not only is there a constant threat of invasion or support of proxy forces around the world, the 800 US military bases also perpetuates sex trafficking, since US soldiers always need to be “serviced.” (See David Vine’s Base Nation and Cynthia Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches and Bases.)
  • Continued US military actions which leaves thousands of civilians dead or wounded on an annual basis, particularly in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, throughout Africa an Latin America.
  • Continued US support for dictatorships and foreign governments that provide access to multinational corporations to exploit resources and labor around the world.
  • Unexploded US ordinance, which kills and wounds thousands of civilians annually, in countries like Vietnam.
  • Toxic waste from US military bases and operations, which contaminate ecosystems around the world.
  • The perpetuation of US weapons sales, particularly to countries like Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Mexico, which have atrocious human rights records.
  • The perpetuation of the consumption of fossil fuels, which makes the US military complicit in the climate crisis
  • Lastly, voting for the annual military budget means that the US outspends the rest of the world on militarism and it means that roughly half of US taxpayer money goes to militarism, instead of going to things like Medicare for All, housing justice, renewable energy, etc.

What is interesting and at the same time aggravating about all of this is that people will still continue to vote for the likes Senator Peters and Senator Stabenow. But lets be honest, when people vote for Peters and Stabenow they are ensuring the perpetuation of US militarism and US imperialism, which translates into the brutalization of humans and ecosystems across the planet. As Dr. King said in his famous Beyond Vietnam speech:

This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

More evidence that the Defund the GRPD movement is an effective campaign

December 30, 2020

On Monday, we posted a story about the new online efforts of the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association (GRPOA) to lobby city officials to not Defund the GRPD.

In response to that post a couple of GRIID supporters said they saw a billboard using the same visual theme as the online GRPOA campaign to oppose defunding the GRPD. Located on US 131 South, there is this billboard shown above, that is just south of Franklin St.

Using the phrase, We’re Calling for Backup, as clever as it may seem, is misleading. The Grand Rapids Police Department is funded with public tax money from people who reside in Grand Rapids. As we wrote in a post this past summer, the GRPD, along with several elected officials put forth a ballot proposal to change the City Charter to make the police department’s budget a full third of the entire city budget. This campaign took place just months after the federal government adopted what is referred as the Crime Bill, which contributed significantly to mass incarceration in the US.

Since that 1995 campaign to solidify an increase in funding for the GRPD, the actual funding has fluctuated between 36% and 39% of the City’s over all budget. The GRPD billboard is misleading because the public already has the backs of the police, because the public pays their salary. It is only because there is greater scrutiny by the public of the GRPD, that the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association has pushed back against the significant call for a decrease in the police budget. The irony is, that even those who are part of the Defund the GRPD campaign, are contributing to the police department’s budget, if they pay city taxes. Many of those who are calling for Defunding also recognize that they have a right to call for a reduction or outright defunding of the police budget, which they have been doing since June. However, the City Manager (someone who is not elected) stepped in and put a stop to any vote that could defund the GRPD back in July, thus demonstrating that the public has no say about how their tax dollars are used in this city.

While getting a picture of the GRPOA billboard, we spotted a second billboard, which had a more direct attack on the call for defunding the GRPD. Just south of Burton St on US 131, on the east side of the highway, there is this billboard pictured here, which says, Oppose Defunding Police, with the tag line below that says, Brothers in Blue GR. We could find no reference to Brothers in Blue GR, but it is clear that another group is paying for this billboard.

What is instructive about the GRPOA campaign to oppose defunding is that they are spending significant money on a website and billboards. This is in sharp contrast to DeFund the GRPD, which has raised money is recent months to buy refrigerator magnets that provides alternatives to calling the GRPD when there is a conflict, plus they purchased children’s books to give away, specifically in the Black community, just before the holidays.

One thing for sure is that the campaign to Defund the GRPD is effective. Why else would the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association spend so much money and effort to oppose the public call for Defunding the GRPD.

Betsy DeVos believes that student debt cancelation is a wrongheaded proposal

December 29, 2020

As part of the Trump administration, Betsy DeVos will soon have to relinquish her status as US Secretary of Education. However, DeVos is still using her position in the Trump administration to continue to push her own ideological agenda about education.

Betsy DeVos released at statement on Monday, December 28th, as possibly her last opportunity as Secretary of Education, a statement that once again makes clear of her desire to expand the Neo-Liberal Education model that has it roots in the White Supremacist push back of communities who opposed the desegregation of public schools. (See A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School, by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire.)

The statement released by DeVos addressed educational aspects of the House bill on COVID relief. While the house bill passed, the Senate still has to vote on it (as of this writing). 

There are several things about DeVos’s statement that are worth pointing out. First, DeVos celebrates that Congress agrees that relief aid should be for both public and private education.

The emergency taxpayer funding set aside for the Education Stabilization Fund will continue to help keep learning going and will hopefully take excuses off the table for schools that remain closed. I am pleased to see that Congress has finally acknowledged what this Administration has said all along: All students and all educators at all schools — private, parochial, and public — are affected by this pandemic, and they all need and deserve support for PPE, cleaning supplies, learning materials, and more. And, through the GEER fund, governors remain empowered to do what’s best for their students.

When DeVos refers to the GEER fun, she means the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund, which gives each state the power to decide which schools will benefit from COVID relief fun.  In September, Betsy DeVos sent a letter to the Chief State School Officers round the country, admonishing them to, “provide equitable services to private schools as soon as possible.”

Second, DeVos then chastises members of Congress that do not completely buy into the Neo-Liberal education mantra of School Choice, which is code for, “let’s undermine public education.

Third, Betsy DeVos then makes a backhanded comment about those who are proposing to eliminate student debt, by saying:

There are many wrongheaded proposals right now concerning student debt, so I was pleased to see that Congress adopted one sensible way to address the issue by expanding the ability of employers to provide tax-free payments of up to $5,250 of an employee’s federal student loans, including those taken out prior to their employment. This provision will help students pay down their debts faster and keep employers engaged and invested in what students need to be successful — a win for students and job creators alike.

What is wrongheaded is that Betsy DeVos doesn’t understand that there is an entire movement of students that are demanding that the federal government eliminate student debt. What is wrongheaded is that corporations and stock holders are profiting off of student debt, which includes Betsy DeVos. Earlier this month, DeVos addressed student by saying:

“More than two-thirds of Americans don’t pursue a four-year college education. Many pursue different, and just as valid, paths to gain the skills needed for successful careers. It’s fundamentally unfair to ask two-thirds of Americans who don’t go to college to pay the bills for the mere one-third who do.” 

Now, I don’t believe that Betsy DeVos is a stupid person. Betsy, like the rest of the DeVos family surround themselves with advisors and consultants, to help their family make strategic decision. Betsy DeVos is fully aware of the fact that the wealthy 1% of the population, which includes her family, benefit from a tax systems which burdens the other 99% of the population with paying for the tax breaks the 1% gets. DeVos uses the language in the quote above as a means of appealing to working class people who have embraced some of the talking points of the Capitalist class.

However, since Betsy DeVos has made those comments about a student debt, the incoming Biden administration has backed off of any commitment to only reducing, not cancelling student debt.

Lastly, it is worth noting that while Betsy DeVos has issued this statement in regards to the COVID relief bill, she fails to acknowledge that whatever relief amount that the government will decide upon is grossly inadequate. For someone who claims to support students and parents, it is the height of irony that the federal government COVID relief funds that have been and will be adopted are nothing short of a slap in the face of families across the country who are suffering at the hands of the billionaire class, which includes DeVos.

The Power of the Zapatista concept of Ya Basta! and a poem

December 28, 2020

We have a very important weapon which the government does not have. That weapon is called dignity. With this weapon no one and nothing can defeat us. They can kill us or jail us, but they will never defeat us. EZLN Communique, Sept. 12, 1997 after the murder of 45 campesinos in Acteal, Chiapas

In my younger years, I had the opportunity to do accompaniment work in Guatemala, El Salvador and Chiapas, Mexico.

Do accompaniment work led me to write the book, Sembramos, Comemos, Sembramos: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time and to make the film, Reversing the Missionary Position: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time

I always reflect on the end of the year, since I had the opportunity to be in Chiapas during the late December/early January period, doing international solidarity work in the Zapatista communities of La Realidad and Oventic.

What follows is a journal entry for December 28th, 1999, while I was doing accompaniment in the EZLN community of Oventic, along with a poem I wrote on that same trip.

I just finished re-reading Holliway’s article “The Concept of Power and the Zapatistas.” A refreshing articulation of power, especially after reading Bishop Ruiz’s piece in a magazine that Elisa loaned me. Ruiz has some important things to say about the marginalization of the indigenous populations, but he still advocates an evangelization “that incorporates age-old religious and mystical experiences of other peoples….Missionary action is not difficult when we know that the subjects are not us but them. They are the subjects of their own evangelization, embodied and experienced from within different cultural models.” This is a nice articulation, one that reflects sensitivity, but premised on the expectation of missionary work as a necessary component of the work of Christians. For me, this still reflects a certain sense of superiority or monopolization of truth. If we are to come to terms with our role in 506 years of oppression these medieval notions must be abandoned.

Holliway frames it differently in talking about the Zapatista concept of power. “The power of the zapatistas is in the power of the YA Basta!….the negation of oppression, which exists in the depths of all of us.” This is a radical departure from the missionary position which posits a sense that what I have to offer is better, richer, more truthful.

 

In the cool December morning

I rise to greet the warmth of the sun

Dew drips off plants and roof

While barefooted Indians pass by

On the road below Oventic, Aguascalientes of youth

Where children walk hand in hand

Or lean up against siblings

Their eyes are as dark As the earth

Their smiles bring hope From the mountains

Zedillo calls the young Zapatistas terrorists

As they prepare the New Years festival

pine needles are spread out like a royal carpet

where musicians create ancient songs

with marimba and flute

their bodies sway in rhythm

like trees that bend in the wind along a narrow path

the view of people gathered is more beautiful than any painted canopy or ecclesiastical ceiling

families sit proudly on benches built for this open air arena of democracy

while helicopters fly above monitoring games & ice cream vendors

as the night approaches

the Mayan moon illuminates the court

where dancing and Tzotzil speeches fill our souls,

and even though we do not understand the words

we know their truth

the way lovers know each other’s touch

It is here that I understand The meaning of justice

Its hunger satisfied

And like the mountains,

These proud people have Withstood the weathering of history and the cruelty of men…

walking in paths of freedom

GR police union starts campaign to lobby City Officials to counter Defund the GRPD organizing

December 27, 2020

On December 23rd, the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association (GRPOA) posted this graphic on their Facebook page, shown here on the right.

The GR cop union is clearly feeling the pressure from various efforts to hold accountable the Grand Rapids Police Department, especially the organizing being done by Defund the GRPD.

Since the May 30th rebellion in Grand Rapids, the GRPD has demonstrated that they do not welcome public criticism and will go to great lengths to undermine any efforts to reduce the estimated $55 million annual budget they have. In addition, the GRPD and the GRPOA have tried to control the narratives around policing in Grand Rapids, even using the increased gun violence as a diversion from having to talk about the possibility of defunding the GRPD. 

The GRPOA also began their own billboard campaign, using Orwellian language presenting the GRPD as “peace officers.”

Now the GRPOA has their own online campaign, encouraging supporters to contact City officials, using the following biased narrative: 

“The men and women of GRPD have taken an oath to serve and protect the residents of Grand Rapids. To effectively do this, we need the city commission to support us with the resources needed to keep you safe. 2020 has been the deadliest year on record in Grand Rapids, but the commission recently turned down $500,000 in federal grants that would’ve been used to combat violence in Grand Rapids. The vote was split on accepting the money, and when they couldn’t agree on how the money should be used to reduce crime, they simply decided not to accept it. Please contact the mayor and your commissioner and urge them to allocate the necessary resources to make our Grand Rapids neighborhoods safer.”

The GRPOA narrative clearly distorts what happened with the GR City Commission vote and why their was opposition to using CARES Act funding for ShotSpotter technology. We watched that City Commission discussion/vote on November 17th and posted our own analysis of what took place. In many ways, the main reason that several commissioner gave for not supporting the CARES Act funding from the County, was because the the language of a GRPD memo, which continued to push for use of the ShotSpottter technology, plus the hundreds of messages that the Commissioners received from the community in opposition to it.

The GRPOA online campaign also has 6 different banner messages that constantly rotates. Those messages are:

  • You Have a Right to Remain Safe
  • Gun Related Killings are up 80%
  • 37 GR Homicides in 2020 – deadliest year ever
  • Reports of Gunfire up 210%
  • Attempted Murders Using a Gun up 195%
  • Gun Related Assaults up 58%

Now, none of the data provided by the cop union is accompanied by a source, which means we are all supposed to just accept these numbers on face value. More importantly, the one message that the GRPOA doesn’t have on their website, is how many acts of gun violence have been prevented by the GRPD. Such a statement doesn’t exist, because the GRPD doesn’t really prevent gun violence, they only respond to the shootings after the fact. In fact, all of the messages that the GRPOA provides on their website are misleading, since they do not ask a more fundamental question, which is – how do we create community safety in Grand Rapids.

At the very bottom of the page, there is an addition message, with an accompanying image of a jar full of bullet cartridges – Over 1600 rounds of ammunition illegally fired since May of 2020.

Lastly, it is worth noting that the list of commissioners from top to bottom, doesn’t follow an order that is ward sequential or in alphabetical order. What is instructive about the order of the commissioners listed, is that those listed on the top have been the commissioners who have been most responsive to their constituents input on policing in GR, which has meant the commissioners near the top of the list have asked questions and voted in favor of reducing the police budget and against the use of ShotSpotter technology. Apparently, the GRPOA wants people to target the commissioners who have been most open to hearing public concerns and criticisms of the GRPD.

GRIID Year in Review Part IV: Reporting on the Power of Social Movements in Grand Rapids in 2020

December 22, 2020

(Editor’s note: GRIID does not ask for money, since we do not to make money for the IndyMedia we produce. We do, however, invite people to share our content, as we believe it can help foster important conversation about critical issues in this community.)

On Friday, we shared Part I of this four part series, with a look at how GRIID continues to monitor the news media and deconstruct their narratives. In Part II, we looked at the 2020 GRIID posts that looked at what the Grand Rapids Power Structure was up to. In Part III, we looked at the COVID crisis, specifically through the lens of how systems of power responded to the crisis, who is benefiting from the pandemic and which communities are the most hard hit. In today’s post we will look back at all of the amazing work done by social movements in Grand Rapids.

Immigrant Justice Movement

There are several established social movements in the Grand Rapids area, some of which were born in 2017, such as the immigrant justice movement, led by Movimiento Cosecha GR and supported by GR Rapid Response to ICE. Since much of 2020 has been impacted by the COVID crisis, Cosecha and their allies have been fighting to get support for undocumented immigrants, which are not eligible for federal relief funds. The pressure that Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE applied since March, when the COVID crisis hit, resulted in the creation of the La Lucha Fund in Grand Rapids. 

However, Cosecha GR has primarily focused on their Driver’s Licenses for All campaign, which saw them pressuring local governments to support the statewide campaign to pass legislation to once again allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. We reported on Cosecha GR actions in February at the Wyoming City Commission, which often exposed the deep levels of racism and xenophobia that immigrants face in this community.

Like in previous years, Cosecha GR organized their annual May Day action, which was a car caravan, due to the COVID crisis.  In September, Cosecha GR, along with Cosecha circles from across the state, converged on Lansing to pressure state lawmakers to host public hearings on Driver’s Licenses for All.  Since then, Cosecha GR has been pressuring other state legislators, by doing demonstrations outside of their homes, like the action they did outside of State Representative O’Malley’s home in November. 

GR Rapid Response to ICE has primarily been doing Mutual Aid for due to the limited ICE activity since the beginning of the COVID crisis, providing support to Cosecha’s work and kicking off a campaign to invite more of the faith community to become sanctuaries for the undocumented

However, maybe the most revealing work done by Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE, was submitting a FOIA request to the City of Grand Rapids, in order to obtain information on GRPD surveillance of the immigrant justice movement, specifically the May 1, 2019 action organized by Cosecha GR. The FOIA request resulted in 271 pages of documents that were mostly redacted, since the GRPD did not want to make public the kind of repressive tactics they have been using against the immigrant justice movement since 2017.

Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network

Another amazing social movement we documented was the work of the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network (GRAMAN). Several organizers who were doing work with GR Rapid Response to ICE, who had a history of doing Mutual Aid work, started a Mutual Aid Fund for those impacted by the COVID crisis, beginning in March, when we did an interview with them

Since then, GRAMAN has raised over $100,000, providing Black, latinx and indigenous families with financial support, food support and PPE support. The amount of money they continue to raise is amazing, but what has also been amazing is the number of people who have stepped forward to be part of this Mutual Aid work, demonstrating once again the belief that everything we need can be found in our community. The work of GRAMAN has been inspiring to so many, plus it also exposes the eep failures of the Capitalist system to actually meet the needs of people, plus it has shown that local governments also o not serve those who are the most marginalized.

Movements confronting White Supremacy: From Justice for Black Lives to Defund the GRPD

No one could have predicted that the public lynching of George Floyd would have sparked such a massive, insurgent anti-White Supremacy movement, but in May of 2020, this is exactly what happened. In Grand Rapids, there were protests organized for May 30th, but those protests led to a rebellion in Grand Rapids, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since 1967

There was a lot of posturing that came out of the May 30th rebellion in Grand Rapids, both from City officials, but also lots of organizations that continued to counsel caution and reform. However, too many people were not buying that same old reformist mantra an two groups/movements that came out of the May 30th rebellion in Grand Rapids were Black Lives for Justice and DeFund the GRPD.

Justice for Black Lives has kept the pressure on to maintain a presence in the streets, protesting White Supremacy and Structural Racism in Grand Rapids, while DeFund the GRPD has worked to challenge the ridiculous amount of public money that funds the police in Grand Rapids, to demystify that function of policing and to call for divestment in policing in order to invest in the Black community.

GRIID has devoted over 50 posts since June on the work of these two movements, along with numerous posts that provides analysis of the GRPD budget and how City officials have been trying to undermine the efforts of these movements. What follows are some highlights of this movement work and accompanying analysis:

A Brief History of how the GRPD responds to protests and dissent 

If Grand Rapids really wanted to promote anti-racism and equity, then they would embrace Defund the GRPD 

How did a third of the City’s Budget get designated to the GRPD: The Safety 95 Campaign and White fear in Grand Rapids 

Grand Rapids Police Officers Association releases statement against the calls for Defunding the GRPD 

Defund the GRPD campaign makes clear demands on the City of Grand Rapids during Press Conference 

We don’t need no stinking permits to protest: 100 years of dissent and disruption in Grand Rapids 

The GRPD & Respectability Politics vs Community Control over public safety

Grand Rapids is using bureaucratic management to further marginalize the Defund the GRPD campaign 

Setting the parameters for input by controlling the narrative: The GRPD Strategic Plan Survey 

Grand Rapids participates in statewide Solidarity Action, GRPD threatens activists with arrest 

The GRPD planned for another riot in the wake of no justice for Breonna Taylor action  

Kent County Commission collaborates with Grand Rapids City Commission to redirect CARES ACT funds to the GRPD, while thousands of families in the area are fighting to stay alive 

GRPD moves forward on ShotSpotter technology, ignoring public concerns and minimizing community opposition 

City Resolution to accept $500,000 from the county for crime prevention defeated, GRPD plans to move forward with pursuing ShotSpotter 

Gun Violence, Structural Violence and the GRPD 

In addition, we documented these movement to defund the GRPD and the ongoing street protests against White Supremacy, with a post entitled, A visual timeline of how the GRPD has tried to control the narrative about public safety since the May 30th rebellion in Grand Rapids.

Lastly, we did not include other movement work in Grand Rapids, but want to acknowledge the work of other Black, Indigenous, latinx and queer organizing that had a significant impact on this community, along with groups like Together We Are Safe, the Urban Core Collective, the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union and Grand Rapids for Education Justice, all of which are making an impact on structural change in Grand Rapids.

In 2021, GRIID will continue to be a media watchdog, exposed those in power and write about the social movements in Grand Rapids, which are ultimately the only thing that challenges the systems of power and oppression that are part of the very fabric of the city we call Grand Rapids.

GRIID Year in Review Part III: Reporting on the COVID crisis and how systems of power responded in West Michigan

December 21, 2020

(Editor’s note: GRIID does not ask for money, since we do not to make money for the IndyMedia we produce. We do, however, invite people to share our content, as we believe it can help foster important conversation about critical issues in this community.)

On Friday, we shared Part I of this four part series, with a look at how GRIID continues to monitor the news media and deconstruct their narratives. 

In Part II, we looked at the 2020 GRIID posts that looked at what the Grand Rapids Power Structure was up to. 

In Part III, we will focus on posts that looked at the COVID crisis, specifically through the lens of how systems of power responded to the crisis, who is benefiting from the pandemic and which communities are the most hard hit.

Organizations that are part of the power structure wasted no time in promoting their own policy agendas once the COVID pandemic hit Michigan. Marc Lamont Hill refers to this crisis as Corona Capitalism, which exposes how the system of Capitalism fails the public during a crisis, like what we are facing right now.

Beginning at the end of March, we posted stories entitled Disaster Capitalism in Michigan, with Part I focusing on Americans for Prosperity and Part II involving the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has a long history of support from members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

We then continued with how organizations that are part of the power structure continued to promote Corona Capitalism, like the Acton Institute, which was providing the ideological framework to support the anti-lockdown protests. 

By late April, there were coalitions being formed within the Capitalist Class to promote re-opening Michigan’s economy along with many West Michigan business leaders

Another tactic that was being used by the Capitalist Class was to offer, as they often do, charity, which is primarily motivated by their desire to get good press. The DeVos family was doing this with the Kent County Relief Fund, which only lasted a few months. 

In early May, the Kent County Health Department (KCHD) was tracking COVID 19 cases in this area, providing numbers by zip code and a breakdown of cases by race. The data the KCHD provided was consistent with what was happening across the country, with people experiencing poverty and Black residents had higher rates of infection and death. 

Later in May, the City of Grand Rapids had posted a video called We Will Rise, which attempted to present the same old narratives about Grand Rapids, narratives that not only sought to downplay who was being disproportionately impacted from the virus, but how centers of power were “helping.” The video also grossly underestimated the failure of the government/business response to the COVID crisis.

By July we were able to report on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds coming to Grand Rapids, an how sectors of power were often the beneficiaries of this funding. 

In August, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was brazen enough to publicly state that  the pandemic was benefitting the kinds of education policies she has promoting for decades, the privatization of education and the undermining of public education. 

In September, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against Gov. Whitmer’s Stay at Home orders and Republican lawmakers began to push the insidious idea of herd immunity.

Not surprising, once more businesses opened up, we saw a major spike in COVID cases across the state, especially in Kent County, despite all the claims from the Corona Capitalists that West Michigan was unique.

Ultimately, what the COVID crisis has revealed is the deep structural problems with the system of capitalism and how it is designed to reward those with power and privilege and punish everyone else. In Part IV, we will look back at some of the amazing work that was done in 2020 by grassroots social movements in the Grand Rapids area.

Graphic by Brett Colley

GRIID Year in Review Part II: Monitoring the Grand Rapids Power Structure

December 20, 2020

(Editor’s note: GRIID does not ask for money, since we do not to make money for the IndyMedia we produce. We do, however, invite people to share our content, as we believe it can help foster important conversation about critical issues in this community.)

On Friday, we shared Part I of this four part series, with a look at how GRIID continues to monitor the news media and deconstruct their narratives. 

In Part II, we will look at the 2020 GRIID posts that looked at what the Grand Rapids Power Structure was up to. We monitor the local power structure for a variety of reasons, but also because we believe that this is a primary function of journalism….to expose, critique and challenge those in power.

We posted stories about organizations that are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, such as the West Michigan Policy Forum, which earlier in the year was pushed state lawmakers to maintain work requirements for those receiving Medicaid.  Another example of an organization that represents the GR Power Structure, is the Right Place Inc, where we critique their strategic goals of class warfare. 

Then there are groups like the DeVos-created AmplifyGR, which went before the Planning Commission at the beginning of 2020, which resulted in a follow up story we did about how a member of the Planning Commission had a serious conflict of interest on this matter, even if his fellow commissioners didn’t think so. 

Since it was an election year, we tracked how members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure were contributing to political campaigns in March and just before the August Primary.  However, the most important reporting we did on election coverage, was the 4 part series we did on the DeVos family election contributions, just prior to the November election. 

Part of the monitoring of power that we engage in, is reporting on how the wealth of the capitalist class increases, especially while others are struggling. This was the case in a story we posted in April, about how the wealthiest people in Kent County were benefitting from the CARES Actand again the following month where we noted how the Meijer and DeVos family wealth had increased while thousands in West Michigan were unemployed, facing food insecurity and potential eviction. 

We also did our  annual look at the latest information on the foundations that members of the local power structure operate. In early May, we posted a piece about the Prince family foundation and a five-part series on the DeVos family foundations

Beginning in October, we began to follow the latest development proposal from Grand Action, which was scheming on a project to bring an outdoor amphitheater to Grand Rapids.  By November, there were more details revealed about the project, where we made the point that when the powerful want something done they often get their way, while some parts of Grand Rapids continue to be underfunded

We also expanded our exploration of the Grand Rapids Power Structure to look at what we referred to as the second tier of power in Grand Rapids, in an article we posted in October. 

Lastly, we reported on the death of Peter Secchia, which was a more honest assessment of his life, compared to what the dominant news sources were saying. In early December, we critiqued a letter that was sent to the Grand Rapids City Commission from Sam Cummings, which was rather instructive about how those with power think. And of course, we updated our online resource known as the DeVos Family Reader, which is now at about 600 pages long. 

Again, we do this work because it should be the function of journalism to comfort the afflicted and and afflict the comfortable. We also believe it is essential for those organizing for radical change to have a robust understanding of the local power structure, especially if we want to defeat them.

In Part III of this series we will look at the COVID crisis and how systems of power responded to this pandemic.